Deadline for talks between Israel and Palestinians expires

John Kerry expresses regret for saying Israel risks becoming an ‘apartheid state’

A deadline set by the US last year for peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians passed without agreement or a framework for possible future discussions, further extending the deadlock between the sides.

Hours before the deadline, set nine months ago to conclude this phase of the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, US secretary of state John Kerry issued a statement expressing regret for recorded comments in which he warned that Israel risked becoming an "apartheid state" if it did not agree a peace deal.

Mr Kerry backtracked on his comments, captured in a recording of a private meeting last week, saying they led to a “misimpression” about his views. But he did not deny that he had made the comments, saying he was expressing his belief that a two-state solution was the only way to end the conflict.

'Two-state solution'
"If I could rewind the tape, I would have chosen a different word to describe my firm belief that the only way in the long term to have a Jewish state and two nations and two peoples living side by side in peace and security is through a two-state solution," he said in a statement on Monday evening.


Mr Kerry was forced to explain his comments to the Trilateral Commission in Washington last Friday, which appeared in online publication the Daily Beast on Sunday.

Republican politicians and US Jewish organisations had criticised him for his choice of words at a sensitive time in the talks.

Republican opponents, including Texas senator Ted Cruz, demanded his resignation. Mr Kerry had "proven himself unsuitable for the position he holds", Mr Cruz said.

The controversial comments were interpreted as a sign of Mr Kerry’s frustration ahead of the deadline for talks given the significant time and effort he had spent over the past nine months trying to bring Israelis and Palestinians to the negotiating table and failing even to reach an agreement to extend talks.

Relations between the US secretary of state and Israelis have been strained at times during that period.

"Any suggestion that Israel is, or is at risk of becoming, an apartheid state is offensive and inappropriate," said the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a powerful representative group in US politics.

“Israel is the lone stable democracy in the Middle East, protects the rights of minorities regardless of ethnicity or religion.”

The Anti-Defamation Lea- gue, a US-based Jewish group, said Mr Kerry “used the repugnant language of Israel’s adversaries and accusers”, and his comments were “not seen as expressions of friendship and support”.

Republican senator Marco Rubio from Florida, who is tipped as a potential 2016 presidential candidate, described Mr Kerry's comments as "outrageous and disappointing".

The latest talks stalled after Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu suspended negotiations last week following the pact agreed between the Palestine Liberation Organisation and Hamas, the Islamic militant group with which Israel refuses to negotiate.

The US state department has said the US envoy for the talks had no immediate plans to return to the region.

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell is News Editor of The Irish Times